We studied the variation in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the breath of 50 normal humans, using gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy. An average breath sample contained 204.2 VOCs (SD=19.8, range 157-241). The alveolar gradient of each VOC (abundance in breath minus abundance in air) varied with rate of synthesis minus rate of clearance. A total of 3481 different VOCs were observed: 1753 with positive alveolar gradients, 1728 with negative alveolar gradients. Twenty-seven VOCs were observed in all fifty subjects. This study confirmed previous reports of wide inter-individual variations. Two new findings were the comparatively small variation in total number of breath VOCs, and the presence of a 'common core' of breath VOCs in all subjects.